The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is upon us for the year, and I have been contacted by a number of reporters this week asking, “How can Western Christians pray for the North Korean underground church?”
My answer is the same as the first of the General Rules of John Wesley’s Methodist Societies:
By doing no harm.
I admit it is an uncommon prayer, so much so that reporters wonder if I have misunderstood their question. But I think it is a good prayer, and, especially this year, the right prayer, so permit me to explain.
When Mrs. Foley and I founded Seoul USA ten years ago, we did so recognizing that though much was beginning to be said and done with regard to the evangelism and discipleship of North Korea, most of the saying and doing was coming from South Korean missionaries and mission agencies and international humanitarian and human rights NGOs. We decided that Seoul USA would exist to provide a saying and doing platform for North Korean Christians to talk about their own country, and, indeed, that is what Seoul USA became. We launch balloons and do short wave radio broadcasts and run discipleship programs and a missionary training school because that is what North Korean Christians have said is the most effective way to reach North Korea. And when I say “we,” I mean Western Christians and South Korean Christians in partnership with North Korean Christians.
Ten years later, it is no longer unusual to see North Koreans reaching North Korea–and that is a welcome change But what I still see today–perhaps, sadly, even more than what I saw ten years ago–is well-meaning Western and South Korean Christians seeking to do good inside North Korea in either intentional or accidental partnership with the North Korean government.
And that is a travesty.
The number of religious tourists to North Korea is increasing.
The number of churches across middle America sponsoring humanitarian aid to North Korea is increasing.
The number of Christian business people pouring big money into opening coffee shops and noodle factories in North Korean free economic zones, ostensibly with the hope of making discrete witness for Christ to North Korean government officials and workers, is increasing.
“Surely these are doing some good,” people will sometimes say to me. To which I always make the same observation in reply:
Seoul USA’s purpose is to support North Korean Christians to evangelize and disciple their own country. And in ten years I have never met a single North Korean who has advocated religious tourism, humanitarian aid, or business investment in North Korea.
Instead, if you ask a North Korean Christian about religious tourism, humanitarian aid, or business investment in North Korea, they respond with a phrase like this:
“Are you crazy?”
They are puzzled why anyone would trust the North Korean government and are adamant that any aid given to a government-related project only strengthens the regime’s ability to eviscerate the real Christians.
So as you contemplate prayer on behalf of the North Korean underground church this IDOP week, please consider joining me in this modest prayer:
Please let us not do them harm, Lord.
Please let us not put too much faith in our wealth or worldly freedom, Lord.
Please make us more like them instead of us making them more like we are.
Please let us learn from them before we try to help them.
(If you are interested in learning from the North Korean underground church, this is a great week to join Seoul USA’s 100 Days of Worship in the Common Places with the North Korean Underground Church.)